Art In African Performance

African culture has, from its earliest roots, integrated dance and music into its core traditions. These have been used in celebrations, rituals, and even in mourning, to convey ideas, appeal to the spirit realm and integrate the tribe members into a unified entity.

Most of the art forms and pieces created by African people were actually created, not only for their aesthetic appeal, but also, and probably more so, for their value in such rituals. In fact, items like masks and beaded jewellery were generally viewed with a three-pronged approach in mind:

Image of African Tribal Dancer.
African Tribal Dancer.

1. Meaning of the piece – whether it is a mask, sculpture, painting, carved rock or beaded necklace, the piece has its own significance determined by its very nature. For example, masks are usually used to communicate with the spirits and in preparation for battle, so they will bear features that are appropriate to these functions.
2. Dance – When the artist is designing and creating a piece of art, there is almost always a dance that is associated with the piece, depending on its application. This dance is kept in mind during its creation in order for the two to work in cooperation with one another.
3. Spiritism – Traditional songs and dances are used in conjunction with art pieces to communicate with the spirit realm (usually the ancestors). This can be to request help, wisdom or insight, or to gain approval.
Art also features in the way that the singer and dancers decorate their bodies for the purpose of such a performance. Because dance is usually a ritual associated with religious or cultural roots, the appearance of the body also depends on the particular application. Soldiers that are preparing for war may paint their entire bodies and bear intricately-decorated weapons along with masks bearing references to power and victory, while pubescent girls would rather don colourful beads and bear beautiful face paint in preparation for marriage. Textiles are also used in African performances as the singers and dancers clothe themselves or their king for each specific ritual being performed.

The African cultures value art, craft and creative expression in a way that very few, if any, modern cultures do. As such, their freedom of expression and the import placed upon their pieces is an identifying mark, emulated by many but perfected only by African artists.

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Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.